There are benefits to organic food that the recent Food Standards Agency report missed. Plus, rediscovering the humble appleby Alex Renton / August 27, 2009 / Leave a comment
THE REAL BENEFITS OF ORGANIC FOOD
At the end of July the government’s Food Standards Agency announced that there were no “important” nutritional differences between organic and conventionally produced food. The organic industry, now worth over £2.1bn a year in sales, was furious. The newspapers, which love the popping of a middle-class faith-bubble, smirked over the exposure of the “fraud of organic.” They had, of course, played a major role in setting up the scam, if scam it was. But there was nothing unusual there, or in the fact that the supermarkets, who profited greatly out of the organic boom, the biggest growth area in food retail this decade, have kept quiet about the shooting of this particular goose.
Why did the FSA feel the need to pronounce at all? Why not take on the big frauds in food marketing—the abuse of words like “natural” and “fresh,” say, or the multimillion pound business of selling tiny pots of sweetened milks and yoghurts as a potion to make your life better? Organic is hardly a villain in an industry that is rife with charlatans and confidence tricksters.
The debatable claim that organically produced food contains more nutrients is only one selling point. The FSA failed to consider that organic food production spurns pesticides, or that organically-produced meat is not pumped full of antibiotics. These are important to the shopper reaching for the organic product rather than the conventional one. And, leaving aside the fact that organic is kinder to the environment, it tastes better, especially in fruit and veg. What’s a decent Food Standards Agency up to, if it doesn’t consider the importance of pleasure?
I suspect the organic fad’s most beneficial effect has been to persuade people to pay more for their food. Reversing decades of decline in the real price of food is good for farming, for independent retailers, and it has a bearing on the pressing issue of the ridiculous amount of good food we throw away: these are all important to the government’s aim of reducing our dependence on food imports. According to Defra, 63 per cent of British farms are unable to make a workable profit. Conversion to organic was one of the few ways farmers had of making their businesses more viable. So the FSA’s damning of the sector seems about as un-joined up an approach to tackling Britain’s problems with the rural economy and…